02 July 2015
Arc Flash - "Black Market Time Tech"
Lawrence, KS punk band Arc Flash were on my watch list for quite a while before the release of this debut album. Comprised of Mau Bones' James Thomblison, The Lusty Flowers' Lewis Guillen, and OILS / Karma Vision / CS Luxem drummer Mark Osman, this band is an incredible supergroup of Whatever Forever alumni and talent. After gathering hype from their frequent, energetic live performances and a split tape with New Orleans' Ex Spectors, the band released their debut album Black Market Time Tech back in March. The album begins with an eerie message taken from what sounds like an 80's self help VHS, then immediately jumps into full force with "Critical", a short and sweet punk track that works as a good introduction to the band's sound. Next is the track "Titan", which is easily one of my favorite tracks here. It's full of energy and atmosphere, it makes me want to mosh even when I'm just sitting in my room writing this review. This is also where you can start seeing Thomblison's roots in ambient music; there is a thick delay on his guitar throughout the song (James can be seen at live shows with 3 or more delay pedals), and the song ends in a wide experimental soundscape that sounds amazing. That psychedelic influences continue heavily into "Tuff", a song that's definitely as heavy and as moshable as "Titan". The vocals on this track are absolutely blood pumping. Then at it's peak, the song slowly disintegrates into a dense psychic haze, with James barely singing, and the drums getting lighter and lighter. Then there's a snare hit, and we're right back into this amazing psych punk piece. The album slows down a bit for the emotionally charged "Earls", one of the most beautiful songs I've heard this year. Beneath the crisp guitar, crunchy bass, snappy drums (I swear that wasn't intended to be a moto for some sort of musical cereal) and emotive vocals, there are these small but powerful pockets of high octave ambient swells to be found hovering in the background. It's just lovely. Now, on the digital version, the drone that ends this track is very quiet and slowly fizzles out. But on the tape copy that I have, the drone keeps rising in size, creating a massive ambient texture until it finally runs out of time and just suddenly stops. Needless to say, I like that a bit more. The second side of the tape starts with "Blood". Once this track hits the chorus, I just lose it. After you've listened to this album as much as I have, you can't help but scream all the words, and mosh with anyone who's near by. Sorry to anyone who's been on the bus while I've listened to it. On my tape copy, the next two tracks "Divination" and "Pieces" are in a different order than they are on the digital release. Doesn't really affect anything, I think both orders work fine. "Divination" is a pretty fun track, probably the closest thing to a happy song that Arc Flash could do. It's still got plenty of energy and force, and has some really awesome sludgy guitar sounds in it. I also love the wah-wah used on this track. It sticks out from the rest of the guitar sounds on the album, so I just really enjoy it each time I hear it. The song "Pieces" is another absolute mosher (is that a word? well, it is now). The highlight of this song for me is how high James' vocals get on the opening lyrics. It gets me each time, and sets the energetic ton of the track perfectly. The album ends perfectly with "Sink", a perfect mix of Arc Flash's energy and the more emotive parts of their sound. The track's end drone, like "Earls", is really beautiful. But also like "Earls", the tape version I have just continues to rise and swell and I consider that to be the much more definitive sound of the drone. However, this track sounds like it's had a takeover from Agent X-12. Like, the drone is just suddenly interrupted by loud noise waves and squeals. And like "Earls", I like this tape version quite a bit better, and it kind of confuses me why these versions weren't on the digital release as well. But oh well. I do like both versions.
While I do think that the band's split with Ex Spector better shows the ferocity of their sound, I think this album is still incredible. I love every song, and the performances are all-around fantastic. I love to let this album play as loud as I can stand, and just feel all the layers to the songs. The experimentation with more ambient and delay-heavy guitars from Thomblison make this one of the most unique psych punk albums I've heard in a while. The drums are fast and pounding, the bass lines are tight and crunchy, and the vocals are emotive and powerful as hell. As the cover art says, this album gives you results guaranteed, and I think those results are helped with multiple listens.